If you are one of the people who hasn't read Gillian Flynn's insanely readable novel, Gone Girl, I suggest you don't read this review.
Let's just get one thing out of the way. Flynn has adapted her own novel with surgery-like precision. It should definitely satisfy rabid readers, and the things she left out are merely the collateral damage that comes when adapting a novel. Get over it, people. It's a very confident screenplay, and the first lines come directly from her novel.
Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) is wondering about his wife's head. In the opening shot, his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), is resting her head on Nick's chest, and she looks at him (at us) with a curious expression--her eyes wide. Nick says he wants to know what Amy is thinking, and we, the audience, are right there with him (especially if we've read the novel). Nick wants "to crack her head open...unspool her brain..." These are horrifying images that will not help Nick in the upcoming weeks.
Nick arrives home on his fifth wedding anniversary, and his wife is missing. The living room suggests a struggle, but Amy is nowhere to be found. When the police arrive, it becomes apparent that Nick doesn't know what his wife does all day. They moved to Missouri to look after Nick's dying mother after both losing their writing jobs in the recession, and the film jumps back and forth from their courtship and relationship drama detailed in Amy's diary to the growing media frenzy that leads everyone to think that Nick is responsible for Amy's disappearance.
Gone Girl is a meticulously crafted film. While the novel is an absolute page-turner, David Fincher has created a crime drama that is suspenseful, funny, and a sprawling tale of marriage gone sour. It is one of the best ensembles I've seen all year, and every actor brings their A-game to this highly-anticipated adaptation.
The film drops Nick's narration, and Fincher sets us up to be a viewer to the violence that is about to take place. We watch his every move, and we almost want to dial that AMY TIPS hotline every time Affleck raises his voices or gets angry in frustration. The film is a marital battleground. It will look like a standard man vs. woman, psycho bitch vs. selfish jerk standoff, but it really is about how we communicate with each other in relationships. If these two were more upfront and honest with each other, would any of the events in Gone Girl have happened? Does that even matter? This is a marriage bloodbath, and we have front row seats to the carnage. "Marriage is hard work," Amy writes in her diary.
The film's ugly sleekness is captured by Fincher's trademark dark aesthetic. As soon as Fincher was announced as Gone's director, I knew it was in deft hands. Fincher and Flynn are a sort of nightmarish dream team, so it's no wonder that they are teaming up again for HBO's Utopia. While reading the book is sort of a thrilling he said/she said, the film feels open yet intimate at the same time. Behind closed doors, Nick confides in his sister Margot while the assault of the media lies waiting outside to devour him. It's alive and scary.
I was most looking forward to see Pike's portrayal of Amy Dunne. Isn't everyone? Every person has an opinion about how this character should be portrayed (the same way how everyone had their "own vision" of another Fincher leading lady, Lisbeth Salander), but Pike knocks it out of the park. Initially, I thought that her voice would give away her calculated intentions through her diary voice overs, but Pike's calmness is soothing. Readers will be wary of every syllable she speaks. Affleck is perfectly cast. He's simultaneously cocky and earnest--he treats his lack of knowledge over Amy's daily activities with a shrug as if he's accepted that Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus.
Is this one of the most extreme battle of the sexes ever committed to film? Maybe. The audience I saw Gone Girl with was obviously a mixture of fans of Flynn's novel and newbies. I suspect that a lot of men in my sold out audience were brought by women who read the book, because they had the most vocal and extreme reactions. Nick and Amy's reunion had my theater in stitches: a mixture of shock, laughter, and light applause uniting them. The theatergoers seemed divided on the ending, and one guy in the restroom loudly proclaimed, "I was going to propose to my girlfriend, but now...I'm not so sure."
Gone Girl is easily one of the best films of the year. It's deliberate and calculating and fierce. It's a conversation starter about gender and marriage. Surely, husbands and wives will be talking about it on their drives home, and it will linger with them for days. It's a deadly good time.